San Diego Business Journal

The world of work is spinning faster than ever these days. Companies must keep pace if they hope to succeed, yet alone survive. Where will this need for speed take the workforce?

Deloitte and the San Diego Business Journal recently organized a panel discussion to address the future of work.

The conversation took place at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar which hosts the only Michelin star restaurant in San Diego, Addison.


Ken Weixel

Moderating the panel were Ken Weixel, San Diego managing partner, Deloitte LLP and Barb Chodos, president and publisher of the San Diego Business Journal. Panelists were Victoria Sassine, a board member of several companies and CEO of Scale Smarter Partners; Jill Broadfoot, CFO of aTyr Pharma; Karen Gibson, senior vice president for Quidel; Saundra Pelletier, CEO of Evofem Biosciences; Dr. Magda Marquet, Ph.D., co-founder and co-CEO of ALMA Life Sciences, investor and serial entrepreneur; Susan Tousi, senior vice president at Illumina; and Carin Canale, owner of Canale Communications. Hiral Shah and India Mullady of Deloitte were also among the panelists.

These key players in a variety of businesses brought their experience and insights to the topic of the changing office and the changing world.

What follows is a sample of the evening’s conversation. Remarks have been edited for clarity.

India Mullady, manager, Deloitte Consulting LLP, sees the importance of not only thinking globally, but acting globally: “We’d like to start by saying the rate of change — and you’re all intimately aware of this — is progressing faster than ever. Even to think about something as simple as sequencing a genome. [Think] how much that used to cost 20 years ago, 10 years ago, five years ago, how much it’s going to cost in five years.

“Another layer of complexity is the makeup of the talent is very different. It’s no longer people sitting in an office from 9 to 5. You might have people that are nearshore in a delivery center, maybe in Minneapolis. You might have people that are offshore in a different country. People who aren’t actually employees, contractors, getting into freelancers.”

Victoria Sassine, CEO of Scale Smarter Partners knows the search for talent is one thing no company can afford to ignore: “Do you feel that when the economy contracts and we go through a recession — which we will, we just don’t know when — that the nature of the work is permanently changed? Or is it just because people cannot attract talent? I work with businesses all over the United States that cannot find people.”

Mullady sees disruption and disappearances in the cards: “Work has fundamentally changed in terms of the disruptions that have occurred. We do think quite a few companies are going to disappear, but not necessarily because of an economic contraction but because their industry has been disrupted in the way of work that has fundamentally changed the way things get done. Whether that’s with assisted devices and those change the makeup of a person’s job. It doesn’t mean the job goes away, it just means the job is going to be transformed.”

Karen Gibson, senior vice president with Quidel, sees the gig mentality: “One of the articles you passed around was interesting to me because it described a new lifestyle of work — the gig worker. Gig workers have decided they would rather contract — even in very short sprints — rather than through a contracting firm or become full-time employees. That is a little risky because of how the work gets done, how it permeates through the organization, and the lack of responsibility for owning it once it’s done. But it appears to be a generational shift in how work is approached — it’s a lifestyle. It was very interesting to see that the current generation coming out of college, that’s the kind of lifestyle they aspire to. They want to be entrepreneurs. They want to own their own business. They want to own their destiny. It’s a focus on the work versus the employer.”

Mullady finds experienced workers embracing change: “Gig workers are fascinating as you see it on the younger end, but so unexpectedly — I work with a company right now where the majority of their gig workers are 50 or better. They don’t want to have their own office. They don’t want to attract a portfolio of clients. If they [work] at a software or technology that brings clients and opportunities to them, and they don’t have to put a shingle out in front of their office, but they can take those responsibilities from their home or from another place and they don’t have to hire an office manager, so much the better.

[The situation of] gig workers is absolutely changing, and people that figure out what we call fractionalized work arrangements for various types of job, they’re really cracking the code, and you see them saving money and being more productive if they do it right.”

Ken Weixel, San Diego managing partner, Deloitte LLP: “To you, what is the definition of a gig worker?”

Mullady defines their role: “A gig worker is a little bit different issue than your contractors and then your freelancers. And the idea of the gig worker is they really are going after those particular fractionalized work arrangements. Conceptually they could be an employee of the company, though oftentimes you don’t see them that way, because they’re taking on a very specific work assignment or work arrangement. And so we grab the whole definition.”

Weixel: “What does the engagement with a gig worker look like for the companies [that employ them]? Is it a 1099?”

Mullady finds potential flaws in the relationship: “It could be, but more often than not it doesn’t have to be. The hard part about not having a 1099 arrangement is companies feel like they have a lack of control sometimes and a lack of consistency over what those gig workers are able to produce. It is important to consider what work is the most standardized and repeatable and, therefore, likely to produce consistent results even with gig workers.”

Weixel: “And, Karen, I think you see this in IT a lot.”

Gibson finds it goes beyond outsourcing, contracting: “All the time. I’ve been in IT and technology for quite a while. I personally have done offshoring, outsourcing, contract workers, you name it. But this is actually really new and different because it is very specific, very defined: almost at the micro-project level. The challenge is how do you integrate everything that goes around that piece of work? How do we make sure that it fits in with what we’re doing as part of the bigger picture? We have to become much more skilled project managers and integrators. Somebody has to own that role and that responsibility of the architect, [seeing] how it all fits together, if you get very tight specialists around certain things.”

Susan Tousi, senior vice president at Illumina: “Do they do good work?”

Gibson puts out the caution flag: “Yes, the ones I have been exposed to have a real passion for the work. But [the question is] how do you wrap everything else around it? And how do we make sure that it’s sustainable, and how do we make sure we have all the IP that comes with it? Who owns that completely? How do we make sure a gig worker doesn’t turn around and take work product out to our competitors? So those are the things we have to think through.”

Sassine on the need for a TVP, or talent value proposition: “You know, India, if you go back to your opening premise, what you said, fundamentally it doesn’t matter where we are in the [economic] cycle. The nature of work has changed, and we’re not going to turn that around. Looking at a different paradigm for a second: I’ve worked with companies all over the country, anywhere from $50 million to about $1 billion in revenue. They cannot find workers. The model [familiar to baby boomers] is broken; when you came out of school and you went with one or two companies for the rest of your life, that model is broken. And I do feel that with companies — and this is even companies that are $100 million, $200 million, not mega large cap companies — they are almost insulted by, ‘What do you mean? Although we have no problem firing you when we go through a recession, why aren’t you going to stay with us forever?’ So what I would look to see is — I think what you have to do is attract people — is you need to talk about a company having a CVP or a customer value proposition — why do you exist? Companies really have to offer a talent value proposition, or a TVP, and accept the fact that your new workers are only going to work with you for four or five years and are only going to do gig, and then they’re going to go to the next step. And that’s how you can attract the best workers.

“Indeed just did a study and said that 70 percent of the people that it placed last year were not actively looking for a job. Not actively looking for a job. So all those bots are out there polling people on LinkedIn — I mean I get it all the time, ‘Come and apply to Illumina.’ And so we have to do something and say, ‘These people, if they’re only looking for what are the skills that I can get, why should they stay with me?’ And so I think it’s really interesting when you talk about how — to help this organization to change, how are we pushing that organization to change?”

The conversation continued, touching on concepts such as the adaptable organization, the mission-driven organization, and employee interest in being part of the company mission. Participants discussed job seekers with advanced academic degrees — often several of them.

Susan Tousi on finding and maximizing talent: “At Illumina, we are proud of our culture and our ability to bring out the best in people. I personally believe that talent development is a critical part of running complex, game-changing projects like NovaSeq, HiSeq and NextSeq and of Illumina’s overall success. A good day for me is one where I am able to bring diverse opinions to the table, equip people with the confidence they need to be key contributors to projects, and help them realize that the projects are tied to their ability to change the world.”

Weixel: “What I’d like to do is make sure we touch on three dimensions of what’s reshaping the working jobs. We are talking about Who and Where. But I think a really fascinating one is What, which is: What work can be done by someone other than a real human being? And this is amazing to me.”

Magda Marquet, life sciences entrepreneur, finds millennials not following in previous generations’ footsteps: “There are incredible disruptive forces taking place at this time. Never before in our history has the human race been facing such exponential change. In fact, if you look at the human brain, which works in a very linear fashion, you find out that it cannot keep up with new technology development which is exponential. This is a big problem. We’re completely overwhelmed because we’re linear, and exponential development is happening now. So we’re a bit lost. In the past, when we dealt with new, disruptive technologies, we had the time to adapt. Right now, everything is happening extremely fast and it has contributed to a global anxiety crisis that is affecting some young people’s abilities to be comfortable about their future and therefore their outlook on the workplace. In fact, one of the other major phenomena happening at this time is a big change in the composition of the workforce where millennials become predominant. Many millennials have been very influenced by the 2008 depression and this has created a questioning and sometimes lack of trust regarding the corporate world. If you add to that, their concerns about the future of the planet you find out they see the world in a completely different way. I have two sons who are millennials and what drives them is to make a positive difference in their communities and in the world, to live a balanced life. They are not interested (at least for now) in joining a corporation. It is going to be a very different world. And of course there are the things you are talking about, Ken, such as AI, robotics …”

Weixel: “Machine learning.”

Marquet lobbies for creativity and adaptability: “Machine learning. A lot of the jobs that exist now will not exist in 10 years. However, the creative jobs will be there, like — Karen, of course, you’ll have to program. We’ll need counselors. We’ll need artists. We’ll also need people with heightened adaptability skills who can be very comfortable with change as rapid change will undoubtedly be the new norm. So, if you have a job now for which you can honestly say a computer can do better, it’s time to rethink your future. This affects many aspects of many jobs even in accounting, law, health care and many others. All of this massive adoption of new technology really changes the whole perspective of what we think work is. It is helpful to remind ourselves that the idea of work from 9 to 5 is relatively new and was brought by the industrial revolution. Our identities are so dependent on the work we do: ‘I am a scientist. I am an entrepreneur. I am an accountant.’ The new jobs will be much more multidisciplinary, challenging us to reinvent ourselves constantly and therefore they will clearly affect the way we self-identify, probably in a very profound way.”

The conversation transitioned from computer assisted work to the places where people come to work every day.

Saundra Pelletier, CEO of Evofem Biosciences, found surprising feedback: “We’re moving office space, and we have the opportunity to design the new space. We’ve talked about what I call radical transparency, where we ask about what’s working and what isn’t working and let’s be really honest, like take off the gloves, no one’s going to cry, we have thick skins, say what you really want to make the environment better. And what was amazing is I got extraordinary negative feedback on the open work environment that we had. They couldn’t say enough bad things to me about it.”

Sassine: “People want an office.”

Pelletier built neighborhoods: “Right. But then I had an adviser come in and make this really interesting suggestion to say, ‘What you have to do is take your new workspace and create neighborhoods, and have these seven different neighborhoods, and you have to explain it to everybody, “This is the virtual neighborhood where everybody works remotely, nobody’s really talking, they’re all interacting. This is the social neighborhood where people are talking.”’ So people could pick a neighborhood to work in based on their own style and by what would motivate them to excel. So once you described the neighborhood, then you could say, ‘You know what? I excel in this kind of a neighborhood. I actually like the human connection a lot.’ The people who are more introverts are saying, ‘I can’t really function that way. I don’t like the work space,’ because they can’t think. It was so fascinating.”

Weixel: “I’m thinking of Mr. Rogers, ‘Won’t you be my neighbor?’”

Pelletier finds co-workers vote for ‘different.’: “And you get to pick. None of us lives in the same neighborhood. We all like different — and I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness!’ And everybody’s so excited. Everybody was so worried that I was going to design the workplace. Now they’re thrilled. And I feel so thrilled that everybody’s going into it embracing it because they get to sit in a space they choose. And that might seem like a little thing, but I think in the end everybody’s going in with a higher intention.”

Marquet: “In these times of rapid change, a strong sense of community becomes vital. It’s about community.”

Gibson: “It’s also about control. It sounds like you’re giving them control over ‘where do I fit?’”

Pelletier: “Precisely. You don’t have to be a circle that fits into a square hole. You get to be who you want to be and meet people where they are.”

Mullady: “Choose your own adventure.”

Gibson: “That’s ingenious.”

Weixel: “To close it down, let’s go around, let’s talk about where each of us think we are relative to these three dimensions [the Who, Where and What of work].”

Carin Canale, owner of Canale Communications, finds generational considerations: “I think on the Where, we’re probably doing a pretty good job. I think a lot of it is generational. You have our managing directors who historically thought, ‘If you’re not here, you’re not working.’ Right? Even in the office, some millennials are playing music, they are more social, they often work in the café instead of at their desk and the senior team may wonder, how can they focus? But, they can’t focus without it. Right? They need it because they have grown up with constant access to music. Likewise, our office is surrounded by coffee shops. I’ll go get a coffee and there will be Canale team members sitting there working. And that’s OK because they’re all getting stuff done. And so I think we’re doing pretty well on the Where.

“And in terms of San Diego, I think our Where has switched more from the client’s perspective. The client doesn’t care if we’re there. And that’s nice. But we get like so much just brainpower from cohabitating that I think we’ll probably continue to do that but with increased flexibility like standard work-at-home days. Change is constant and the senior team is interested in learning more.

“On the What, frankly I don’t think we’re doing a good job. I know there are so many more areas that can be automated, especially at the associate level. They get bored and tired of the work anyway — so more automation will be good for time and for morale.”

Weixel: “Jill?”

Jill Broadfoot, CFO of aTyr Pharma, has a fluid workforce: “So I haven’t been at aTyr Pharma that long. So I’m going to talk about aTyr Pharma and the company I was at before, Emerald Health Pharmaceuticals.

“The What, I think at aTyr is a little difficult because there’s biologic manufacturing. We do outsource it. But with regards to the automation, I think it’s difficult just because of the processes that you have to go through. So since we outsource that, I can’t say that we’re really doing that good of a job there, because we’re relying upon others. And in the rest of the organization, we’re trying to put more automated processes into place administratively so I think that probably helps.

“The Who, we outsource a lot of stuff. We do collaborations at aTyr. We’ve done our first few collaborations since I started. We don’t have enough resources to take our science and develop that science. So we have — let’s say we have 20 proteins we can work on. We’re working on one. So we outsourced four of those to CSL so they can take our model and they can do the discovery work on that. So — so we are doing collaborations, we are looking at different contractors to come in with different, you know, specialties. With regards to Emerald, we started up that company with two or three people. And by the time I left, maybe it was a dozen people. And we did look outside of the U.S. I mean, we had people in — and this goes to the Where as well — we bought a company in Cordoba, which is a tiny little city in Spain.

“But the Where, going into that, I mean, we had 11 people in Cordoba, our CEO was in Florida, I’m the CFO, I was in San Diego. Our regulatory person ended up being in Florida. We hired a couple of other people in San Diego. In Cordoba we expanded our manufacturing capabilities. So it was a lot of that communication and making sure that we had the videoconferencing capabilities, and we did that every week with really the majority of the organization at that time for Emerald, because it was so small.

“But being able to also pick up the phone and just talk to somebody, you have …. When you’re doing the Where and you’re doing it remotely, you have to have that access, and you have to feel comfortable doing it. I think that’s really, really important.”

All the speakers seemed to come to one conclusion: that the future of work is fluid. New roles, new technology, and new paradigms pop up overnight. Always follow wherever the search for talent leads you. And be prepared to unlearn assumptions and learn to adapt … always adapt.